Reading in 2020: A pandemic year’s bookshelf

Writing about some of the books I’ve read over the past twelve months feels a bit strange, as 2020 has seemed like two different years: the one that began on January 1 and the one that began in mid-March, when the world awoke to the reality of COVID-19 and nothing was the same again. Steeped in isolation by pandemic distancing protocols, we’ve all had much more time to read while pondering so many unsettling questions.…

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Thant Myint-U: The unbearable burden of history

The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century By Thant Myint U Norton, 288 pp In all my years of writing and journalism, the only time I recall ever being turned down for an interview at an arts event was when Thant Myint-U, pre-eminent historian on Burma and grandson of U Thant, third Secretary-General of the United Nations (1961-71), snubbed me before his appearance at the Irrawaddy…

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Xenophobic nationalism: Myanmar’s curse

    With the corpses piling up in Rakhine State and the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing into Bangladesh eclipsing the 400,000 mark, international good will toward Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be hemorrhaging by the minute. The whole world, it seems, is piling on Myanmar’s former beacon of democracy, blaming her for a crisis the UN describes as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. And with good reason. Once celebrated for her steadfast courage, dignity, and…

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The Best of Burma: A Reader’s List

Since Lune and I arrived in Myanmar in September, a few people have asked me what they should read about this fascinating country. In no particular order, and with some comments included, I’ve compiled a selection from the books I’ve read. For a general historical view, one of my favourites is River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma (2006) by historian Thant Myint-U, erudite grandson of former UN Secretary-General U Thant and—according to Foreign Policy—one…

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